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Idiot's Delight (1939) is a Hollywoodmarker film, with a screenplay adapted from the 1936 Robert E. Sherwood play, by Sherwood himself. The movie stars Norma Shearer and Clark Gable. It is notable as the only film where Gable sings and dances, performing a version of the Irving Berlin standard "Puttin' on the Ritz". However, it is not strictly a musical.


Harry Van (Clark Gable), an American World War I veteran, tries to reenter show biz and ends up in a mind-reading performance with an alcoholic partner. There he meets the mysterious Irene (Norma Shearer), an acrobat, who claims to come from Russiamarker and wants to become his performance partner. They have a romantic night but Harry decides to stay with his previous partner.

years later, after a number of jobs, Harry escorts a dancing group of six blondes on a trip through Europe. They get stranded in an alpine country, where they have to wait in a hotel until the border opens again: the international situation is close to war. It is here that Harry meets Irene again, who is the mistress of a rich entrepreneur, Achille Weber (played by Edward Arnold). A pacifist (Burgess Meredith) told the people in the hotel that Weber is behind the war that just started, and that the planes the guests saw rushing away from a nearby air field are carrying bombs to kill thousands of people in other countries. The pacifist is imprisoned and it is later mentioned that he was killed.

The next day the people in the hotel are able to continue their voyage, as the borders have opened again. Also the American society manager is leaving, telling Harry and his blondes that the other countries will take revenge and bomb the hotel. But Irene cannot leave the hotel because she had told Weber what she is thinking about Harry, and Weber now denies taking Irene with him. Irene has no valid passport and cannot travel on her own, so she must stay in the country.

Harry, who had already left with the blondes, reluctantly comes back for Irene. She then admits that she is the person he had met in America twenty years ago. Harry says that he wants to take her with him and the blondes. They hear planes approaching, and are told that they should seek shelter in the cellar.

In an ending shown to the international audience, Irene does not want to go to the cellar. She and Harry stay in the society room of the hotel. With the enemy planes bombarding the air field next to the hotel, the couple sings a hymn from Harry's youth. They survive the bombing in the half destroyed hotel.

In the ending shown to the domestic (American) audience, Harry and Irene cannot go to the shelter because the results of a bomb blocks their way. This shorter end does not differ very much from the international one and is a happy one as well.



The country is not identified. In order for that to happen, the producers have the 'locals' speaking Esperanto. There are also Esperanto words and sentences written, like a sign reading Autobuso. The actors actually speak comprehensive Esperanto, but slightly too Italian-like.

Norma Shearer's elaborate hairstyle in this film was copied from the hairstyle worn by Lynn Fontanne when she played the same character in the Broadwaymarker production of the stage play. The film's ending is considerably different from the play's ending, as well as more optimistic.

Pat Paterson, who played Mrs. Cherry, was married to Charles Boyer for 44 years. This was her final film.

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